FOI Request for British Archive War Diaries

PRESS RELEASE FROM ED MOLONEY & ANTHONY McINTYRE
July 14th, 2013

Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre are today announcing their intention of lodging a Freedom of Information request with the British government archive at Kew, Surrey seeking the lifting of an 84 year embargo on the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment compiled in 1972 and 1973. The diaries, which record daily military events during a regimental tour, cannot be opened until January 2059.

The First Gloucesters served in the Divis Flats area of west Belfast at the time Jean McConville came under IRA suspicion of working for British military intelligence and was subsequently abducted, murdered and her body hidden in a secret grave.

They are the only regiment to have served in Divis in these years whose war diaries have been embargoed in this way.

Moloney & McIntyre have approached the family of the late Jean McConville seeking their support while former police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan has said she would, in principle, support the opening of the war diary.

The detailed case for lifting the embargo on the First Gloucestershire Regiment files is outlined by Ed Moloney below.


FOI Request for 1972 War Diaries
Bid For British Army Papers
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow

Today myself and Anthony McIntyre are extending an invitation to members of Jean McConville’s family to join with us in lodging a Freedom of Information request at the British government’s archives at Kew in Surrey to obtain the release of the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment, which served in Divis Flats at the time, in early 1972, that Jean McConville allegedly came under IRA suspicion as an informer for the military.

The First Gloucesters, one of the oldest and most battle hardened regiments in the British Army, was the only one of the nine regiments to have served in the Divis district of West Belfast during the early 1970’s whose war diaries have been embargoed and closed to the public, in that regiment’s case for an exceptional 84 years, until the year 2059. Under the 30 year rule the war diaries should have been made available by now but an extra embargo of over 50 years was imposed. It is our understanding that the British Ministry of Defence has the final say in such decisions.

We are also planning to ask that the war diaries for 39 Brigade of the British Army, that is the Belfast command of the military, between August 1st, 1971 and September 30th 1971, and between June 1st 1972 and June 30th 1973 be opened for scrutiny. These documents have been embargoed for between 84 and 100 years.

We will be filing the requests in order to see if the war diaries, which are a daily account of a regiment’s military activity, contain any information which might indicate what happened to Jean McConville, the widowed mother of ten who was abducted from her apartment in the Divis Flats complex by the Provisional IRA in December 1972, taken across the Border to the Dundalk area, shot dead and her body secretly buried in a beach on the edge of Carlingford Lough.

Questions

In particular the request might settle for once and for all the question of whether the IRA killed Jean McConville because she worked as an intelligence source for the British Army.

Significantly, Nuala O’Loan, the former NI Police Ombudsman who investigated the Jean McConville ‘disappearance’ and whose report challenged suggestions that she had been a British Army informer, told thebrokenelbow.com in a phone interview this weekend that she had never heard of these war diaries until now.

She said that she would be ready to lend her support to our efforts to get the embargo lifted. “I am always ready for documents to be examined but I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know why they have been embargoed. I think I could be supportive of getting the documents out. I think there may be issues attached, there may have to be sections redacted. But I think that would be my only proviso.”

We wish to stress that we are not conducting this exercise to prove that the IRA was telling the truth when it claimed that Jean McConville was killed because she was working for the British Army. We have enormous respect and understanding for the family’s view that their mother was killed and disappeared for reasons unconnected to any military exigency on the part of the IRA.

Nor do we wish our proposal to be regarded as an attempt to vindicate this heinous act by the IRA. What happened to Jean McConville was not only unjustified but was callous, cynical, barbaric and unnecessary and both of us are on public record repeatedly as saying so. I have also written that in my view her killing was a war crime; so has Anthony McIntyre. Strikingly, a significant number of former IRA activists have told me this is their belief also, and that they are ashamed that this act was carried out in their name.

There is no doubt either that certain key figures in the IRA of that time have lied about their part in Jean McConville’s disappearance and have done so repeatedly and grossly. Nor can there be doubt that such lying has infected the IRA’s account of Jean McConville’s death and the reason for her murder.

At the same time two credible IRA figures have come forward both to denounce that lying and also to say that her role as an informer was the reason Jean McConville was killed. Both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price are now dead and cannot be quizzed about their versions of events but they both gave lengthy, credible and coherent accounts, Hughes in the book Voices From The Grave, which was derived from his interviews with Boston College, and Price in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

On the other hand, the former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan has reported that from her inquiries in security circles she could find no evidence to verify the allegation that Jean McConville worked as an agent for the military or any other branch of the British security apparatus. But she has declined to go into detail and has, for instance, refused to say who in security world she spoke to or at what level.

No-one can doubt Nuala O’Loan’s integrity, nor that what she reported she genuinely believed to be the truth. But at the same time, if the IRA account is true, some in the British Army and others in the intelligence and political hierarchy may have had as much reason to lie and dissemble to the Police Ombudsman as does the IRA’s then Belfast leadership to the people of Ireland.

Remember Brendan Hughes’ account. According to his version, Jean McConville was uncovered as a spy when a radio transmitter was found in her apartment. According to Hughes she admitted her role when confronted with the evidence but because of her family situation, she was given a so-called ‘Yellow Card’ by Hughes and let go. But later the IRA discovered evidence she had resumed spying and that sealed her fate.

Nobody knows whether Brendan Hughes’ account is accurate but if it is, it means that the British Army continued to use as an agent someone whose cover had been blown, thus putting the agent’s life in great peril. And, if Hughes’ account is accurate, the army would have known Jean McConville’s cover was blown because her radio had been confiscated by the IRA.

If all this is true the British Army contributed significantly to the series of events that led to her murder. If all this is true the British Army acted recklessly and selfishly and was at least partly responsible for ten children losing their mother. If all this is true then British soldiers, possibly senior ones, had good reasons to lie and to keep these facts from the public and the McConville’s. And the McConville family have good reason to seek the maximum redress.

It should also be remembered that the British Army has a track record of telling lies, in one notorious case a massive lie, about its intelligence operations. When John Stevens, the former Cambridgeshire Deputy Chief Constable was sent to Northern Ireland in 1989 to investigate intelligence leaks to Loyalist paramilitaries he was told at a high level military briefing that the British Army ran no intelligence agents in Northern Ireland.

In fact, as he soon found out, the army not only ran agents but it had an entire dedicated detachment, the Force Research Unit, which did nothing else except run agents. The British Army lied then to cover up its role in the UDA murder of Pat Finucane; in such a context it is not inconceivable that they may have lied to cover up the death of Jean McConville.

Conflicting Accounts

So we have conflicting accounts, dead witnesses, lies told by one side and possibly lies told by the other. What we do not have enough of is truth that can be backed up by independent, contemporary evidence. That is why today we are announcing our plans to seek the opening of British Army files and asking the McConville’s to join us.

We are seeking only the truth. It may be that the files contain nothing of interest or significance and if that is the case, then so be it. It may be that the files support Nuala O’Loan’s suggestion that Jean McConville never worked for the British Army. It may be that they show she did but that her handlers exploited her and helped usher her to an early death. If that is the case, then so be it.

Over the past two years, the PSNI and the British government have sought to obtain interviews lodged in the archive of the Belfast Project at Boston College in their search for facts in the investigation of Jean McConville’s murder and disappearance. We also seek to obtain files lodged in the UK’s archives at Kew in our search for facts in the investigation of Jean McConville’s murder and disappearance.

With the appointment of Dr Richard Haass as the new US Special Envoy with the brief of charting a way to deal with the past, it is becoming clear that any effort to find out what happened during the Troubles will be fatally flawed unless there is absolute balance between competing sides, between paramilitary groups and security forces. The leadership of the Historical Enquiries Team is currently learning the hard way what happens when a process of investigating the past become tainted with double standards.

And so, if the PSNI is to be allowed access to Boston College’s files by the US courts, then we who were responsible for creating them should be allowed access to the British Army’s archive. Otherwise we have an investigatory process that is doomed to be one-sided and whose conclusions will be respected by only one part of the community. Such an outcome can only breed mistrust and further division.

So, why do we single out the First Gloucestershire Regiment in this Freedom of Information request?

The first reason has to do with the unusual act of requesting an embargo on the regiment’s war diaries and the length of that embargo, eighty-four years. This means that unless the embargo is successfully challenged the diary will not be opened until January 1st, 2059, by which time most of those reading this article will be long dead.

To put the embargo into context, it is the same length or just slightly shorter than the embargo placed on 39 Brigade war diaries at a time when the Brigade commander was Brigadier Frank Kitson and he was busy creating the Military Reaction Force (MRF), a super secret undercover unit which allegedly was involved in a series of drive by shootings and killings in Belfast.

In other words to qualify for an 84 year or 100 year embargo as 39 Brigade has, the activities in question need to be the sort that you really don’t want the world to know about, at least for a very long time, and long after those responsible have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The full list of 39 Brigade embargoed war diaries is below. By contrast British Army brigade war diaries in Europe and Britain are open for public inspection:


So what was it that soldiers from the First Gloucestershire Regiment did in Divis Flats in 1972 and also in 1973 that they want hidden until 2059?

None of the other military units that served in Divis during these years felt that way. According to records compiled by our resourceful researcher Bob Mitchell, nine British regiments served in Divis Flats between October 1970 and April 1975. The list can be seen below in the graphic and it records that only one regiment cannot be traced in the Kew archive, the Third Battalion Light Infantry. Of the other eight, all can be traced and aside from the Gloucesters, none asked that its war diary(ies) be embargoed or were ordered by the MoD to be embargoed even though some of them, like the Royal Green Jackets and the Royal Anglian Regiment were posted to Divis during the worst periods of violence.

So what was it that the First Gloucesters were involved in, in Divis Flats that made them so different from seven of their brother regiments?

Our research also brought us to journals and magazines produced by British regiments during the 1970’s which describe in sometimes fascinating detail their activities while posted to Northern Ireland. The Royal Green Jackets (RGJ) Chronicle is a particularly rich source of information.

The RGJ were posted to Belfast for the second time in August 1973 and a single company, ‘B’ Coy, was sent to Divis where, according to the account produced in that year’s Chronicle, priority was given to cultivating sources in the local population. While the Chronicle makes light of the way this was done, it seems that female residents of Divis were especially targeted. The account, which can be read in full below, concludes: “….by the end of the tour, all sections had established a friendly contact here and there.”

Standard Practice

So cultivating and recruiting intelligence sources from the population of Divis Flats, and possibly from female residents, appears to have been standard operating practice for British units, which common sense suggests would be the case. It is something the British would have done as a matter of course and not just in Divis.

A key part of Brendan Hughes’ story concerned the radio that was allegedly discovered in Jean McConville’s flat and with which she is supposed to have communicated with her handlers in Hastings Street RUC station which had become the British Army’s local HQ. In his interview with Boston College, Hughes did not describe the radio in any detail but it appears that it was what most people would know as a walkie-talkie type radio, small and compact, easy to hide and use.

The problem is that some people have raised doubts about whether the British Army had access to such equipment in the early 1970’s and that the only radios in use at that time were heavy, bulky sets totally unsuitable for use by an agent such as Jean McConville. In fact that is not true and the source for this is the Saville report on the Bloody Sunday killings of January 1972.

Paragraph 181.13 of the report reads:

“We should also record that there is evidence that before Bloody Sunday some of the resident battalions were, at platoon level only, using portable Stornophone radios in place of Larkspur radios. A number of former soldiers serving in Londonderry recalled having Stornophone radios available on 30th January 1972. Often nicknamed “Stornos”, these radios, like the Pye radios discussed above, were a commercially produced system purchased by the Army. There is little doubt that the use of Stornophone radios was a consequence of the fallibility of Larkspur radios in built-up areas.”

Stornophone radios were ideal for agent use. Manufactured by the Norwegian Storno Company, the average set was 10” long. 2.5” wide and 1” thick, it had a rechargeable battery pack and a simple ‘push to talk’ operation. The question then is whether Stornophone radios were available to British troops in Divis in early 1972 and the answer is yes.

The answer comes from the ‘Soldiers of Gloucestershire’ website, which is dedicated to all things to do with the Gloucestershire Regiment, including a massive collection, dating back to the 18th century, of paintings, prints and photographs of the regiment during its various campaigns and wars, including its various tours to Northern Ireland.

One photograph shows a soldier from the Gloucesters on patrol in Divis Flats in 1972 holding and maybe using a Storno-type hand held radio.

Here is the photo:

be9divis-patrol-c-apr-1972

So a hand held walkie-talkie type radio of the sort that Brendan Hughes said was found in Jean McConville’s flat was in use by soldiers from the First Gloucestershire regiment in Divis Flats in 1972, the year she was abducted & killed, and the war diary for that tour has been embargoed until 2059. A cloud now hangs over the Gloucestershire regiment which can only be dispelled by full disclosure of the unit’s archives.

Military Sources

There is one final issue that arises out of the Police Ombudsman’s report on Jean McConville’s disappearance. It derives from a section of her report dealing with intelligence reports on the whereabouts of Jean McConville after she disappeared from Divis. That section was summarised in a press release dated August 13th, 2006 from the Police Ombudsman’s office. Here is the relevant section:

“There is no intelligence about or from Mrs McConville until 2 January 1973. An examination of RUC intelligence files show that the first intelligence was received on January 2 1973 when police received two pieces of information which said that the Provisional IRA had abducted Mrs McConville.

“On January 16 1973, Mrs McConville’s disappearance and the plight of her children were reported in the media. A police spokesman was quoted as saying that although the matter had not been reported to them, it was being investigated.

“RUC intelligence files show that the next day police received two pieces of information about the disappearance: One claimed that Mrs McConville was being held by the Provisional IRA in Dundalk. The other also alleged that the Provisionals were behind the abduction and suggested it was related to drug dealing.

“The RUC intelligence files also show that the police later received two separate pieces of information from military sources which suggested that Mrs McConville was not missing: The first was received on March 13 1973 and suggested that the abduction was an elaborate hoax. The second piece of information, which was received 11 days later, said that Mrs McConville had left of her own free will and was known to be safe.”

There is a clear pattern here. Intelligence coming in to the RUC in the first weeks after her disappearance was remarkably accurate. The Provisional IRA had abducted her. Check. Jean McConville was being held in Dundalk. Check. A second report again said that the Provisonals had abducted her. Check. The same report claimed a drug connection which was clearly wrong. But this is the only piece of inaccurate intelligence coming into the RUC at this time.

But then in mid-March the story changes dramatically. Two separate pieces of intelligence from military sources throw cold water on the abduction explanation. One, on March 13th, says that the story of Jean McConville’s kidnapping was “an elaborate hoax”. A second report on March 24th claimed she had left Belfast of her own free will and was safe.

So who were these military sources?

Nuala O’Loan does not tell us. But here is an interesting coincidence. On April 2nd, 1973 the First Gloucestershire Regiment arrived in Belfast for a four month tour – their second since late 1971, early 1972 – and two days later took over duties from the Queens Lancashire Regiment.

It was standard operational procedure for advance parties to arrive several weeks ahead of the main regimental force and included in them would be an intelligence unit. This was done so that the new regiment would be able to ease in to its new duties. So an intelligence unit from the 1st Gloucesters would likely have been in West Belfast when those reports were sent to the RUC saying that Jean McConville was safe. Did the 1st Gloucesters create those intelligence reports or have any hand in them? We don’t know. Perhaps the information is contained in those embargoed War Diaries. That’s another reason they should be opened.

As I say, the war diary may reveal absolutely nothing about Jean McConville at all, in which case her surviving family have everything to gain by knowing this. And so do the First Gloucesters, whose name deserves to be cleared if the regiment is innocent of any suspicion attached to it.

But if the diary does reveal information that the family would probably regard as unwelcome then they and everyone else will have to deal with it. We need to know the truth about what happened to Jean McConville. Hiding facts behind embargoes is unacceptable when others are being forced by legal measures to disclose theirs. Equally, lying about the past by those involved in these events is as intolerable as continuing to exploit an agent whose cover has been blown.

One way or another we need to know what is written in the embargoed War Diaries of the First Gloucestershire regiment.

Dáil Questions: Data Protection & the Boston College Case; HET jurisdiction

9 July 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers

Data Protection

Addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013.

416. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to any instances in which the American National Security Agency and-or the British use of National Security Agency records has compromised any Irish citizens and-or their lawyers; if he will raise the issuance of the second subpoena of the Boston College oral history archives, as a result of electronic eavesdropping on Irish citizens and their lawyers, with his counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): As I have indicated to the House previously I, of course, fully understand the concerns which have arisen in the wake of recent media reports about the PRISM programme. These concerns mainly centre on data privacy rights not being adequately respected. I raised these concerns with the US Attorney General Eric Holder at my recent meetings with him in Dublin. At these meetings, the US Attorney General provided clarity on a number of issues, in particular with regard to the nature of the information collected and processed, i.e. phone numbers, duration of calls etc – but not the content of calls. He also advised that the data was collected under judicial authority and only where there was a reasonable suspicion of serious crime, such as terrorism or cybersecurity/cybercrime.

We cannot ignore the very important fact that there is a recognised need to protect our citizens from terrorist threats and dealing with that does require access to certain data. In doing so, however, it is necessary to ensure that the information used is properly obtained and subject to appropriate safeguards. The importance of protecting individual rights to privacy and ensuring respect for individual human rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights was emphasised to the US side, as was the crucial need to ensure that any security surveillance undertaken is balanced and proportionate. The US authorities have indicated that their practices are proportionate to the threat they are trying to deal with.

In this country we have data protection legislation to protect individuals against unwarranted invasion into their privacy. Access to telephone call content is governed by the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and may only take place under Ministerial warrant. Access to retained telecommunications data in this jurisdiction is governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. Under the Act access may only be granted following a request to the particular mobile phone company or internet provider in connection with the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a serious offence, the safeguarding of the security of the State or the saving of human life.

The operation of both Acts this is subject to judicial oversight and there is also a complaints procedure which individuals can avail of if there is a concern that the Acts have been breached in relation to their calls or their data. There are also procedures in place under Mutual Assistance legislation to cover requests to and from other countries for this type of information. I am not aware of any instances of the kind referred to by the Deputy. My Department has no function in relation to the Boston College oral history archive.

Boston College Case

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013.

133. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will, on the back of the revelations of the extensive spying by the American National Security Agency, which has also been revealed to be used by the British GCHQ, raise the issue of the second Boston College subpoena with his counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom; if his attention has been drawn to any instances, including any relating to the Boston College subpoena case, where Irish citizens and/or their legal representatives have been compromised.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): The allegations of surveillance of EU premises, if true, are of concern to all EU Member States, including Ireland. The EU’s External Action Service has sought clarification of the situation in both Washington and Brussels. High Representative Ashton has also spoken directly about this matter to Secretary of State Kerry and at a press conference, President Obama emphasised the importance of the US relationship with Europe and gave a firm undertaking to examine these allegations and to provide “all the information that our allies want”. I welcome this clear statement and undertaking.

While Ireland is not one of the Member States identified in the media reports to date, the Government has already expressed its concerns to the US Embassy in Dublin at a senior official level and looks forward to clarification being provided in response to the EU’s request. Any further steps will be considered in light of the clarification received. Data protection issues are the primary responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, and he has previously told the House of his discussions with the US Attorney General Eric Holder during the EU-US Ministerial meeting and in a bilateral meeting on the issue. It was agreed to set up a working group between the EU side and the US security services to continue dialogue in relation to this matter.


10 July
Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers

Northern Ireland Issues

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Wednesday, 10th July, 2013; Transferred (from) Justice and Equality

596. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if in view of recent revelations by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that the Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team failed properly to investigate crimes committed by the British military, and in view of the fact that the HET and PSNI have relentlessly pursued confidential tapes held at Boston College to the exclusion of any other line of enquiry regarding offences committed in this State, he is prepared to assert jurisdiction over this matter.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): It is vitally important for the future of Northern Ireland that a stable and lasting peace be firmly established. As stated in the Good Friday Agreement, the tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families.

In the context of the “Together: Building a United Community” initiative by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly will shortly establish an All Party Working Group under an Independent Chair to consider and make recommendations on issues that cause community divisions, including Dealing with the Past.

The HET has an important role to play in ensuring that the families of all of the victims of violence in the past can pursue the truth of what happened to their loved ones, and it plays a significant part in the pursuit of justice. I am aware of the comprehensive Inspection Report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary into the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team. I believe it is essential that the HET operate to the highest standards of effectiveness and impartiality, so that the people of Northern Ireland – and in particular, the families of the victims whose cases are being reviewed – can have confidence in it. Consequently I welcome Chief Constable Baggott’s acceptance of the Inspection Report’s Recommendations and his commitment to work with the Policing Board on ensuring their delivery.

I am glad to inform the Deputy that there is close and ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on all aspects of policing. The two police forces have in place a joint Cross Border Policing Strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI who have responsibility for operational policing co-operation have repeatedly emphasised that the close and high quality co-operation between their forces has been instrumental in preventing attacks, combating criminality and saving lives.

Senator intervenes in Boston tapes case

Senator intervenes in Boston tapes case
UTV News
Published Tuesday, 09 July 2013

US Senator Robert Menendez has outlined a certain conditions he wants to see imposed on any future handover of Boston College tapes to PSNI.

It comes after two PSNI detectives travelled to collect interviews connected to their investigation into the murder of one of the so-called Disappeared, Jean McConville.

A US Court of Appeal ordered that 11 interviews out of 85 be handed over to Northern Irish authorities, after it found a lower court ordered the release of more information than legally required.

In a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, the committee chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he was concerned the material’s release could threaten the peace process.

Mr Menendez demanded that the State department should vet the interviews to be handed over to determine whether their release would damage relations or counter US interest.

The New Jersey Democrat also said the US should invoke a clause in the Treaty with Britain to allow for the transfer of the interviews only for purposes which the US approves and has given consent to – which would allow the American government to bar the use of the interviews in civil proceedings.

“Our country made a significant diplomatic investment in resolving “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland,” Mr Menendez said in the letter.

“It would be a terrible error in judgement if the United States was to not engage now in the due diligence necessary to protest our investment in this hard-won peace.”

The letter was published on Boston College campaigner Ed Moloney’s website.

He and Mr McIntyre have welcomed the senator’s intervention and say they hope to see his requests translated into action.

The men carried out the interviews as part of the ‘Belfast Project’ which began in 2001 with republican and loyalist paramilitaries to form part of an oral history of the Troubles.

Ex-IRA member Dolours Price was one of the interviewees, and it is claimed the former prisoner discussed the disappearance of Ms McConville.

The mother of ten was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972. Her body was recovered more than 30 years later.

The interviews were conducted under the assurance that the tapes would not be made public while the subjects were still alive. Price was found dead at her home in Dublin in January this year.

Former IRA member Brendan Hughes, who also took part in the project, died in 2008.

Dealing with the past before it deals with us

Dealing with the past before it deals with us
BY BRIAN ROWAN – JULY 4, 2013
EamonnMallie.com

The Historical Enquiries Team has made itself a victim of our past – made the stick to beat its own back and made the wrong decisions when it came to reviewing conflict killings involving soldiers.

So, it must now hear the words of “no confidence”, and it is hard to see how it recovers from the report of HMIC – but we should also listen to the words of former Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

“It [the HET] was never ever the answer to the past,” he told me in an interview for the Belfast Telegraph.

“It was only ever going to be a tiny part, but there was nothing else,” he continued – “and, even now, there is not much else.”

So, the story can’t just end with the damming criticisms of double standards.

These things were being said before we read them in this latest report, and there are those who could easily say ‘I told you so’.

The challenge is what to do next and who is big enough to do it.

How do you take the past out of the hands and control of the police and intelligence services, and to use the words of Jarlath Burns, how do we deal with it before it deals with us.

Burns was member of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group that produced a detailed blueprint back in 2009 and, today, he is arguing we need to get it back on the table.

Orde also asked: “Where is Eames-Bradley?”

Its detailed set of proposals included a Legacy Commission with Investigation and Information Recovery Units.

This was meant to be the structure within which an attempt would be made within a five-year timeframe to try to address many of the unanswered questions.

There was also a recommendation for a Reconciliation Forum, but what do we have today?

A political battle over the Maze/Long Kesh ‘shrine’, Eames-Bradley gathering dust somewhere and the HET being kicked around with calls for it to be kicked out.

Then what?

Who has the big idea – even any idea?

We all know what happened to Eames-Bradley.

It was dismissed in the panic caused by one of its recommendations that a recognition payment of £12,000 should be made to all families who lost a loved one.

“I am staggered that a report was allowed to be hijacked by one issue with everything else discarded,” Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I assured Lord Eames and Denis Bradley I would be relaxed, indeed relieved, if they took the HET into a wider structure,” he continued.

“That would have increased its independence and transparency,” he said.

Eames-Bradley wanted the work of the HET to become part of the proposed Investigations Unit inside the Legacy Commission, but who even remembers that recommendation.

The proposals weren’t heard above the political shouts of shame.

So, now what?

In the here and now we have yet another mess, but also the reality spoken by Orde that: “To police the future, you have to deal with the past.”

Who wants to deal with it?

There is no sense or suggestion of political will and, almost twenty years after ceasefires, no plan, strategy or structure within which questions can be asked and answered.

In the Belfast Telegraph I wrote that the past is large in the present.

It is not yesterday or yesteryear, but today and tomorrow.

Eames-Bradley has a structure.

What it didn’t answer was who would participate and under what terms.

Before there is any Legacy Commission we need to know those things.

Then in a structured way think about what delivers the maximum amount of information and the best possible help to victims.

How is every story told and heard?

We need to understand and accept there is no such thing as one truth.

Maybe the design of such a process is beyond the capabilities of local politicians, and perhaps this will need international help.

We need also to understand that the past isn’t going to go away.

Just a few days ago families still searching for bodies that were disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s raised their voices to ask again for information.

For them there is no such thing as drawing a line. How could there be?

So, a process is needed.

It may have to happen in private, and it will have to address the question of amnesty or non-prosecution.

We need also to be realistic.

There will be no such thing as absolute truth from one side never mind all sides, and some answers being sought will hurt more than they heal.

This needs political will and international help.

In a tweet to me, Andree Murphy of the Relatives for Justice project accused the British and Irish Governments of disgracefully disengaging like neutral observers.

They were not and are not neutral observers and they have to be part of this.

For too long, the past has been a political play thing – a battleground.

That needs to change, and all the sides need to start looking for reasons to answer questions rather than excuses not to.

On the Eames-Bradley report, Andree Murphy believes: “There is much to sign up to and add to.”

In all the current fall out, let us all remember the HET was not about answering the past.

It was there because there was nothing else, and now we need something different.

Where is the big idea to deal with a troubled past?

Brian Rowan: Where is the big idea to deal with a troubled past?
The Historical Enquiries Team was set up in September 2005 to investigate more than 3,200 unsolved murders between 1968 and 1998
Belfast Telegraph
04 JULY 2013

When he was here as Chief Constable, Hugh Orde’s idea of an Historical Enquiries Team was not meant as some great answer to the past.

Doing something after decades of conflict, and doing it because there was no other big or small idea.

“It (the HET) was never ever the answer to the past,” Sir Hugh said last night.

“It was only ever going to be a tiny part, but there was nothing else,” he continued, “and, even now, there is not much else.”

Then he asked the question: “Where is Eames-Bradley?”

He means the report published in 2009 containing a detailed set of proposals; a blueprint including a Legacy Commission with investigation and information recovery units.

It was meant to be within this structure that an attempt would be made in a much broader context to try to address many of the unanswered questions.

There was also a recommendation for a Reconciliation Forum.

But the report was dismissed in a furious row over one proposal to make a recognition payment of £12,000 to all families who lost a loved one.

“I am staggered that a report was allowed to be hijacked by one issue with everything else discarded,” Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I assured Lord Eames and Denis Bradley I would be relaxed, indeed relieved, if they took the Historical Enquiries Team into a wider structure,” Sir Hugh continued.

“That would have increased its independence and transparency.”

In the thinking of the Eames-Bradley report, the work of the HET would have become part of the proposed Investigations Unit inside the suggested Legacy Commission.

But the document and all its suggestions have vanished, gathering dust on some shelf and, more than four years later, there is still no big idea.

“To police the future, you have to deal with the past,” Sir Hugh said.

But almost 20 years after the 1994 ceasefires, there is no plan – no strategy or structure within which questions can be asked and answered.

The past is still playing out on a political battlefield – the peace building and conflict resolution centre at Maze/Long Kesh the stuff of headlines and news almost every day.

Will it or won’t it become a shrine to the 1981 hunger strikers?

As that argument continues the story of the past is large in the present.

It is not yesterday or yesteryear, but today and tomorrow.

So, the challenge is to step off the battlefield, and to think of a structure that can deliver the maximum amount of information and the best possible help to victims.

Within that structure there has to be room for every story to be told and heard.

There is no such thing as one truth.

Maybe the design of such a process is beyond the capabilities of local politicians, and perhaps this will need international help.

But the past isn’t going to go away.

Belfast Project: Boston Prosecuting Irish Politics

Belfast Project: Boston Prosecuting Irish Politics
Chris Bray
Letters Blogatory
6 May 2013

The Supreme Court has turned aside a legal appeal from Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, and IRA interviews will likely soon be transferred from the archives at Boston College to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. (A more limited appeal from BC, still pending, relates to only some of the subpoenaed interviews.)

The Irish press has been busy covering this development, and the stories tell you everything you need to know about the federal subpoenas of confidential academic research materials. They all center on Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein politician alleged to have ordered Jean McConville’s murder in 1972.

“Like his hero, Fidel Castro, Adams plans to go on and on,” reads an April 27 editorial in the Herald, a Dublin newspaper. “Until now many of us have given him the benefit of the doubt on both counts.”

But not anymore, the newspaper concludes:

“Meanwhile, Sinn Fein goes from strength to strength. As long as a growing number of voters conveniently forget about the hell that Jean McConville suffered, few among the Sinn Fein ranks will challenge their leader for life.”

This is the point of the effort to breach the Boston College archives, openly discussed in the Irish press as the object of the investigation: to stop Sinn Fein from going “from strength to strength,” preventing voters from conveniently forgetting the actions of the IRA,and convincing party members to challenge their leader.

This is not law enforcement.

Similarly, many of the Irish news stories about the pending release of the tapes say that the move could lead to the “downfall” of Gerry Adams. Here are some words and phrases you will not find in any of those stories:

  • “prosecution”
  • “murder charges”
  • “arrest”

Because none of that is the point. The Herald does refer to the possibility that Adams will face “a case,” but everyone involved knows what case that is. The McConville family is likely to sue the Sinn Fein leader in civil court. This, too, has already been reported.

“We owe it to McConville to reveal IRA interviews and tackle Adams,” the Herald headline reads.

Gerry Adams is to be tackled, challenged, sued, unmasked before an audience of voters, and weakened before the members of his political party. He is not going to be convicted in a court of law on murder charges, and no one—no one, period—believes that he will be.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston is using federal subpoenas to intervene in Irish politics, not to assist in a British murder investigation. I have been saying this for two years. Now the Irish press is saying it too.

Will anyone bother to notice this act of political malfeasance? Or do we simply accept that federal prosecutors should loan their authority to foreign political causes?

McConville family call for arrest of SF leader Adams

McConville family call for arrest of SF leader Adams
By Tim McKenzie
Irish Independent
Thursday September 13 2012

GARDAI will have to arrest Gerry Adams if secret IRA tapes held in the US are handed over to the authorities in the North, the family of murdered Jean McConville has claimed.

Relatives of the mother of 10 have said the onus will eventually be on gardai to question the Sinn Fein president over her kidnapping, disappearance and murder back in 1972.

Ex-IRA members including the late Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes have claimed Mr Adams gave the order for Ms McConville to be “disappeared” after being murdered. She was branded an informer, a claim which has been disputed by her family for four decades

The US Supreme Court is to rule this autumn on whether tape recordings of IRA activists held by Boston College can be handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The PSNI wants to obtain recorded material in the college’s archive that relates to Ms McConville’s murder.

The PSNI is now only one step away from seizing the tapes that could prove highly damaging to Mr Adams’s claim that he was never a member or active inside the IRA.

Journalists and academics who set up the archive known as the “Belfast Project” have campaigned on both sides of the Atlantic to prevent the tapes being seized.

The daughter and son-in-law of the murdered widow believe the buck will ultimately stop with the gardai if the PSNI wins the legal battle.

They point out that her remains were found on Templetown beach in Mr Adams’s Louth constituency, and that all the evidence shows she was murdered in the jurisdiction.

Disappearance

Seamus McKendry wrote a book on his mother-in-law’s disappearance and the search for her remains.

He said the family has also been told by security sources that the fatal shots were fired into Ms McConville’s body in Louth once she had been smuggled across the border from Belfast.

“I sat through every single day of Jean’s inquest and it was quite clear to me that the murder weapon was fired in and around that area.

“The forensic evidence from the inquest points to that. The crime was committed in the Republic of Ireland so the onus is on the gardai to conduct the inquiry and that means it is they who will have to arrest and question Adams about what he knew relating to Jean’s disappearance.

“I accept that this will be politically explosive but justice must be seen to be done. It doesn’t matter if he is a member of the Dail or not.

“Eventually, if the United States holds firm and gives those tapes to the PSNI, the gardai will have to come on board.”

Mr McKendry and his wife Helen, who was 14 when her mother was dragged away from the family home in front of her screaming, terrified siblings, called on the US authorities to resist demands that the tapes remain in Boston.

“These tapes contain important information about what happened to Jean so there is a duty to hand them over,” the couple said.

Louth TD and Sinn Fein chief Mr Adams has repeatedly denied claims by his former friend and fellow Long Kesh prisoner Brendan Hughes that he ordered Jean McConville’s murder.

Last week, the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness claimed in the US that the Boston College tapes could be used to destabilise progress in Northern Ireland.